Bush seeks to polish GOP image among black voters
Some African Americans wary of Texas governor's efforts
DALLAS (CNN) -- At inner-city schools and before civil rights groups, Texas Gov. George W. Bush talks of inclusion and changing the black community's image of the Republican party.
Casting himself as a new type of Republican, Bush -- who received a quarter of the black vote during his re-election bid in 1998 -- is campaigning in black neighborhoods and churches, trying to overcome the ill will between Republicans and African-American voters. Monday, Bush is scheduled to continue that effort by Addressing the NAACP convention in Baltimore.
Bush campaign officials concede that Republicans lack credibility among black voters, but say they are trying to change that image with an approach that says the
Texas governor cares about them. Many blacks remain skeptical, noting the party's embrace of conservative policies they see as hostile to their interests.
Many prominent black figures have aligned themselves with the Texas governor. Retired Gen. Colin Powell and former National Security Council staffer Condoleeza Rice advise him on international affairs and are members of his inner circle. And, at Bush's urging, the party has named Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts as co-chair of the upcoming convention in Philadelphia.
"The message has not always been one of inclusiveness in the Republican Party," Rice said. She said Bush is trying to convince blacks that "opportunity for all is one of the strongest and highest priorities that he would pursue as president."
Bush critics, however, say the governor's outreach to blacks is merely cosmetic -- that his real audience is not African-American voters, but moderate whites who want to see Bush move away from the GOP's conservative edge.
"We are being used as props," said former Republican activist Faye Anderson, who quit the party earlier this year. "It really isn't about blacks. Blacks are being used as commodities in this campaign."
Anderson called Bush's attempts to court minority support cynical and offensive. She and others point to Bush's support of the death penalty, his refusal to condemn the Confederate flag atop the statehouse in South Carolina, his opposition to affirmative action and a failure to appoint more blacks in his administration. Only 8 percent of Bush appointees in Texas' state government were black.
Supporters say Bush's outreach to minorities is genuine.
"This is a very, very different candidate," said Michael Williams, who Bush named chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission -- the state agency that regulates utilities. "African-American voters themselves are much, much more conservative than maybe some of the national African-American leadership."
Rice said Bush can win black voters' trust with a simple message: "This is a man of a good heart, of a great record and of strong convictions that we are going to be one America, or we're not going to be a strong America at all," she said.
But polls suggest blacks may be growing more conservative, but are still center-left in their politics. Polls indicate Vice President Al Gore enjoys nearly 80 percent support among black voters, and Bush has a lot of ground to make up.
"Regardless of the issues, African-Americans aren't going to vote Republican because they don't trust the Republican Party," said David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington think-tank that focuses on black politics.